Australia has it good in pretty much every facet of life. But when it comes to gaming, we’re third rate and downtrodden. While the rest of the Western world take their leisure time for granted, we Down Under have to jump through hoops just to have fun. Whether it’s access to a game, the price of a game, or even playing a game, there’s a lot that stirs our convict hearts.
Firstly, there’s the issue of an R18+ rating for video games. Or more to the point, the lack of such a rating in Australia. This may seem ludicrous to foreigners, but it’s absolutely true. You know how GTA IV is rated 18+ in the UK? Well, thanks to archaic laws and an inconsistent ratings board, the same game has received an MA15+ rating on our shores. If a game is Refused Classification (because it’s an Adults Only game), developers haphazardly edit them before resubmission. For example, the changing of morphine in Fallout 3 to ‘Drug X’. Left 4 Dead 2 was edited so much that it actually affected gameplay. Thank goodness for friendly New Zealand folks willing to gift us uncensored copies via Steam.
But why is nothing being done? Countless petitions and surveys have shown that an overwhelming majority of the Australian public are in favour of an R18+ rating, even non-gamers. And I’ve still yet to see conclusive evidence that violent video games are any worse than other forms of media in influencing children. Yet despite such a strong need for a new ratings system, the Australian Christian Lobby and Attorney-General Robert Clark dismiss it all and ask for more ‘evidence’. Really? You want more? The fact that games rated 18+ in other countries are available for 15 year-olds in our country isn’t reason enough? I mean, sure, we only miss out on a few games, like Mortal Kom…ok, enough is enough. At least we can always import our games.
This has become a bit of a trend in Australia. We’ve always had exorbitant prices, but over the last few years online retailers have given more options. And then there’s Steam. For a time Steam was a shining beacon of good deals, whether on sale or not. We paid fifty or sixty USD for a new release, on par with Americans and certainly cheaper than at the local bricks and mortar. But then the economy went topsy-turvy. (Un)fortunately Australia dealt with the GFC effectively thanks to sound economic decisions and our continuing mining boom. This resulted in a much stronger Australian dollar. And it’s proved a curse on gamer wallets ever since.
You see, as our dollar strengthened, publishers on Steam started to bump up their prices. I’m not sure who cast the first price-hike; it may have been Bethesda. Or Bioware. Perhaps it was Activision? Whoever it was, it started a trend. Some new releases now cost forty USD more than on the American portal. Games are now barely cheaper than retail, and the feeling of being ripped off is ever-present. Steam is still the best when it comes to deals, but for AAA releases one is better off importing games through sites like Zavvi and 365games. Yup, it’s cheaper to import from the UK. PC knows no regional locking.
If and when you get your Refused Classification game after scouring numerous sites for the best deal, there is the issue of living a thousand leagues away from the rest of the world. I’m talking about pings and latency, the likes of which you’ve never seen. This is most prominent with MMOs where an Oceanic server is rarely offered. Instead an overseas server is usually designated as the Unofficial Aussie Server. PvP is never quite what it should be. Other multiplayer games are also a struggle to play, such as Bloodline Champions, where my ping is consistently above 270. And there is never, ever an Australian Natural Selection server.
Our Internet infrastructure, coupled with huge distances, means that Aussies won’t be able to compete against Americans and Euros for a while yet. This will no doubt stunt the development of Australian e-sports, as competing against the same folks is nothing compared to the world stage. Of course, our location does mean we get to play against Koreans in Starcraft 2, but that’s less of a learning experience and more of a cowering-in-the-corner-muttering-about-banelings nightmare. I mean, we might as well give up the games and go outside. Good thing we have the weather for it.
Thankfully it’s not as bleak as it seems. Only a handful of games get RC’d, but an R18+ rating would allow for more meaningful ratings decisions. Prices aren’t all that bad, and when the next massive Steam sale comes, we’ll all be laughing (our dollar is still rising). High pings mean that we as a country stay insulated and safe from the Big Bad Boys of the rest of the world; at least our Internet policy is consistent with our foreign one. It’s not all bad for us, but the next time you download a hyper-violent game without a care for the price or your internet quota, stop a moment to reflect on those ever-so-slightly less fortunate.